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Assessing Aurangzeb

Assessing Aurangzeb

Why in News ?

Recently the name of Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi was changed to APJ Abdul Kalam Road


Historians, particularly the English historians like F.N.Stone and others and Jadunath Sarkar etc. had blamed Aurangzeb for the decline of the Mughal Empire and they had blamed the anti Hindu policy of Aurangzeb. But compared to the policy of Akbar, Aurangzeb was certainly orthodox, he was against the Shias as well not only against the Hindus, we do not find properly that excepting in case of Rajputs he was not much against the Hindus.

Aurangzeb’s religious policies

Aurangzeb has remained a controversial ruler. There are differences of opinion in whether he was a successful ruler. Pakistani historians found him very successful. But English historians of the 19th century like F.N. Stone or the Hindu historian Jadunath Sarkar, of the 20th century found that he was a bad ruler because due to his policy the Mughal Empire declined. He became Anti Hindu in contrast to the liberalism of Akbar and the Hindus were alienated, they rebelled, and the Mughal Empire fell.

But we need to remember that when Aurangzeb died in 1707, the Mughal Empire continued for 150 years after that. It is difficult to accept this kind of theory and as we see the recent researches do not support this Anti Hindu theory of Aurangzeb. But we will start with the generalization as we have done, and now we see that Aurangzeb’s period has been divided into two halves.

1) From his accession to 1669,

2) From 1670 to his death, 1707.

In the first half Aurangzeb is seen as not as a very liberal person but he did not persecute the Hindus at all. As a matter of fact some of the Hindus got very high posts in this period. In the second half, it is stated that he became a very orthodox man, leaned towards the orthodox Ulemas, due to the political failures and so on. This was the division that Prof. Athar Ali has done in his book ‘The Mughal nobility under Aurangzeb’.

Emperor Aurangzeb as a ruler

Regarding the controversy whether Aurangzeb’s Anti Hindu policy was responsible for the decline of the Mughal Empire, there are some doubts nowadays. Modern researches like Nurul Hassan, Irfan Habib, Satish Chandra, Arthar Ali had shown that there is a different aspect of the crisis.

There were crisis during the later years of Aurangzeb, and this was principally the economic crisis, although the scholars differ from one another in detail, e.g. Irfan Habib thinks it is an Agrarian crisis, Arthar Ali and Nurul Hassan think that it is due to Jagirdari crisis. Whatever it was, it was the economic crisis of the Mughal Empire, and therefore it is beyond the hope of a person to salvage the whole thing. Therefore one could, in the beginning, say that there are more aspects than merely the Anti Hindu policy.

Aurangzeb’s entire period as far as his social and religious attitude is concerned, can be divided into four stages, although the stages overlap one another, it is by the measures that we have come this decision.

1) General attitude

2) Temple policy

3) Policy of Jiziya

4) Employment of Hindu mansabdar

General attitude

In the first stage we see that Aurangzeb abolished certain rules e.g. he abolished the Persian practice of Sijda, which is the prostration of the noble before the emperor because he thought it was un-Islamic. Then he abolished the Kalima which is written in the coins, on the ground that the coins are sometimes trampled under the feet. So that had to go. Then he abolished the Nauroz festival, which he said was un-Islamic. It was a pre-Islamic Persian festival, the festival of the New Year. Then he abolished the Jharoka-e-Darshan i.e. the emperor standing on the window, this is the old practice started by Akbar and the practice is as Abul Fazal had explained, is to show the people that the emperor was living. This is very important because when Shah Jahan became ill, Dara put a slave in the garb of Shah Jahan and put him in the window. That was also gone.

In 1670 Aurangzeb banished music from the court. The contemporary ‘Masiri Alamgiri’, Saqi Mustad Khan’s book stated that the musicians took out a procession when Aurangzeb was going to the Jama Masjid. When Aurangzeb asked what the procession is, they said that they were going to bury the music. This a little exaggerated. The playing of the instrument continued in the Nahabatkhana that was on the deuri or on the door; that still continued. Only the vocal music particularly in the court had been stopped. Incidentally Aurangzeb was an excellent Veena player and it was during his period and with his sponsorship that the best Persian works on Indian classical music was written. Therefore, he was not at all anti music as Saqi Mustad Khan tried to tell us, but there are other reasons for this.

Then there are various other small reasons, like he stopped the writing of the official history from the tenth year. The reason was perhaps economic; he did not want to spend money on this. Then the silver ink pot of the durbar was changed to ceramic. The gold railing of the durbar was also changed. Most of these were coming due to the economic crisis that was developing.

But certain other measures as part of the General Attitude e.g. the Holi celebration in public places was stopped, one could play it in one’s own house but it was not allowed in public. Similarly, Muharram, processions of the Shias was also stopped at the same time.

All these measures continued in the general period and in this general period one could see that there was some kind of economic crisis coming. These were not all against the Hindus, but some certainly were e.g. Aurangzeb gave an order in 1670, that all Hindu accountants were to be replaced by Muslim accountants. But this was opposed by the nobles because the khatris and the kayastas, who used to occupy these places, were very efficient, they knew the language, they were experienced people, and therefore they objected to it and Aurangzeb had to change the order. For some he helped them e.g. he appointed an official called muhtasib. Muhtasib is to look after the public moral of the citizen. But he also looks after the weights in the market; he also looks after the surrounding wall of the city, the bridges and so on and so forth. In the General Attitude it was not anti Hindu totally.

Temple policy

In case of the temple (this is a controversial one) the Shariat says that if the Zimmis are there i.e. the Hindus or Christians and if they remain loyal, they can perform their religious functions. But at the same time it is stated in the Shariat that the old temples are to be destroyed and to construct a new temple, the permission of the emperor is necessary. Aurangzeb made a farman of this. The problem was what the definition of an old temple was – 10yrs, 12 yrs, 25 yrs, 50 yrs, and 1000 yrs. And it all depends upon the kazis or the local people to decide which one is old and which one is not.

At the same time we see that Aurangzeb was having problem, rather war with the Maratha and the Jats. But in those areas he began to destroy the temples as part of the punishment policy. As a result the Hindus got more alienated because of this. Therefore in the temple policy it is more or less clear, but the Ulemas forced him to do something e.g. in case of the temple at Vrindavan and Mathura (the Mathura one was constructed during the time of Jahangir) were destroyed on the false ground that the anti Islamic propaganda is being carried on there.

J.H. Farukki in his book has given this reason but he has not given any evidence to show that the anti Islamic propaganda was going on. Till 1669, we see that Aurangzeb was far more liberal. In December 1669 we have a report of a French man from Surat. He said that Kazi of Surat had destroyed the temple and in protest the Hindu merchants had all left Surat and had gone to Cambay. The matter had reached Aurangzeb, he immediately transferred the Kazi and the Hindus had come back.

But up to 1669 December this was the policy but the same French man who was living in India was the merchant of the East India Company, said that later on this did not happen again. No Kazi was later transferred. Therefore in the temple policy, there was a slight change and as we go towards the second half, as we see more and more Aurangzeb getting involved in the wars against the Marathas Jats etc. there are more temple destructions than earlier.

Policy of Jiziya

Jiziya is a Roman word, called ‘gezit’, a tax for non Romans. It’s a poll tax for non Romans. This Jiziya was used in the Sultanate for some time and in the Shariat it is clearly given that the Zimmis would pay Jiziya. During the time of Aurangzeb in 1670 onwards, Jizaya was introduced. Akbar had abolished it in 1564 and in 1670 it was re-imposed.

Now, if we look at the tax structure, we see that it is a regressive tax because for a very rich person Rs. 6 1/3 is not much in a year. But for a poor like a weaver or tailor, this was one month’s salary. Therefore for a poor it is more of a burdensome than for the rich. But that was not why the Hindus actually objected. What the Hindus objected was the way it is collected. The Amins were appointed in every province, they used to go from house to house in the villages, they used to call personally the person to come and pay the tax, and while paying the tax, they were abused. Therefore what the Hindus objected was not the incident of tax but the way it is collected.

And Jiziya had created sufficient problem. Although it has continued even during the British days, e.g. the British in Calcutta in early 18th century imposed certain taxes called Jiziya. But those were not the religious taxes. Here it is a tax on the property excepting land depending upon the quantum and value of the property of the person concerned. Jiziya was abolished in 1702 from the Deccan because of the struggle with the Marathas. In 1712 it was abolished from north India due to the insistence of Asad Khan and Zulfikar Khan, but it was reintroduced very quickly and in 1722 it was finally abolished. Since then it has not been introduced so far.

Employment of Hindu Mansabdar

Akbar had started taking the Hindus in the Mughal Empire as mansabdars. Man Singh was one of those. He became the governor of Bengal twice; he became the governor of Kabul and more than 5000 Zats very high rank. It has been stated by Jadunath Sarkar that Aurangzeb did not make new Hindu mansabdars. This is not a correct statement. Under Akbar the percentage of Hindus was 26.6% of the total. Under Shah Jahan it was more or less the same. Under Aurangzeb, in the first phase (till 1678) it is much less, 21.6% and in the second stage (from 1679-1707) the Hindu mansabdari percentage was 31.6 %, the highest so far in Mughal India and it remained highest in Mughal India.

Therefore the question of not taking the Hindus is inaccurate. Instead of the Rajputs (he imposed certain restrictions on the Rajputs) Marathas were taken in large numbers, and 98 Marathas became mansabdars, out of which 16 became more than 5000 Zat and 18 became more than 3000 Zat. Therefore it is not true that Aurangzeb favored only Muslims; on the contrary he tried to take the Hindus in the administration. There is a letter from Aurangzeb which said as far as worldly affairs are concerned, there is no relation with religion. Therefore it is difficult to call Aurangzeb, an anti Hindu. He is certainly against Rajputs due to certain reasons.


Whatever he had done, the question of the struggle against of the Maratha and the Jats, these are not due to religion. Because in the Maratha army there were Muslims and in the Mughal army there were Marathas as well as Hindus in case of Jats in the Mughal army. Therefore it is not a Hindu Muslim struggle; it was the economic crisis that were gradually coming in and enveloping the Mughal Empire of which he was merely a clog in the wheel.

Therefore one should have a fresh look at Aurangzeb’s policy, particularly his religious policy, he is certainly to be blamed for the destruction of the temples and imposition of the Jiziya but the Jiziya did not last long, 1722 it was over. And since the death of Aurangzeb, temples were practically not destroyed anymore. He did not leave any lasting policy behind the Mughal Empire.


"Their is a battle going on between old estimates and new researches regarding nature of reign and religious policies of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb; few portray him as a religious fanatic and others go on saying that Aurangzeb is a severely misunderstood figure" . Discuss.

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